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R&A Explains Anchored Putter Ban
In a separate announcement from that of the United States Golf Association, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club - golf's ruling body for areas not overseen by the USGA - discussed its support of the ban on anchored putters. The ban will go into effect January 1, 2016.
Here's what the R&A chief executive Peter Dawson and the organizations executive director of Rules and Equipment Standards, David Rickman, had to say.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today for this R&A press conference. I'd like to introduce on my far right, David Rickman, the R&A's Executive Director of Rules and Equipment Standards; and Peter Dawson, the R&A's Chief Executive. I will now hand over to Peter to kick us off.
PETER DAWSON: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being with us. I'm sorry we're a little cramped in here, I'm not sure we realized we were quite so popular. But thank you all for being here. I think we are to announce the decision of the R&A and the USGA on the issue of anchored strokes, and a similar media conference is concurrently taking place at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey. Before going on, however, I would like to thank the European Tour, BMW and the Wentworth Club, for allowing us to interrupt such a busy and important week and for the use of their facilities.
I'd just like to remind you of the background to all this. On the 28th of November last year, the R&A and USGA announced a proposal to introduce Rule 14 1b, prohibiting the use of anchored strokes, and this proposed new rule was to become effective on the 1st of January 2016. Because we recognized that this proposal would be controversial, we took the unprecedented step for a proposed change of a playing rule by announcing a 90 day comment period which ended on the 28th of February this year. We further indicated that a final decision would be announced in the spring.
Now, I don't know if the 21st of May counts as spring or not, but those of us living in Scotland might be excused for thinking we are well ahead of schedule. I don't think the weather's been too good down here, either. I must say we received a very broad range of feedback during the comment period, and we would certainly like to thank all of those individuals and organizations for taking the time and trouble to inform us of their views. The process has I think served as a very strong reminder as just how passionate golfers are about the game no matter their position on this specific issue.
Since the end of the comment period, both organizations have been closely evaluating the input we have received, and we are announcing today that acting through our respective independent decision making processes, the USGA and the R&A have both now approved the adoption of Rule 14 1b. It will take effect as part of The Rules of Golf on 1 of January 2016 at the beginning of the next four year rules cycle. The text of the rule is the same as that previously proposed. Now, I think you all have a copy of this document, 'Explanation of the Decision to adopt Rule 14 1b of the Rules of Golf.' This is a comprehensive explanation of why the governing bodies believe it is right to introduce the new rule, and it deals in turn with each argument, both for and against the proposal. The report is not short, but it does deal very thoroughly with all aspects of this subject, and I commend it to you.
And I would just like to quote from the conclusion section at the end of the document, it says: "We know that not everyone will agree with our final decision, but we do hope that the care and love for the game that all have expressed through their participation in this process will facilitate acceptance of Rule 14 1b when it takes effect. Golf is a single, worldwide game of fun, skill, challenge, honor and integrity, which is best served by adherence to a single set of worldwide rules." I will now hand over to David Rickman, who will give you more details of the reasoning behind the decision to proceed with new Rule 14 1b. David?
DAVID RICKMAN: Thank you, Peter. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is difficult to summarize this comprehensive report in just a few minutes, but it is nonetheless helpful I think to highlight some of the main points. Section one provides an overview of the review and comment process. The R&A received approximately 450 comments during the process, a good level of feedback, we believe, but perhaps not a huge reaction when set into context. The number of golfers currently in the R&A's rules jurisdiction numbers approximately 30 million.
The feedback has been consistent with prior input with comments both for and against the proposal. Of course, there have also been comment from various golf organizations, most of which is in the public domain, and also, some what divided. Section two considers the underlying rationale for the new rule and addresses the first major concern, a lack of statistical evidence. There are three main points to draw from this section. Firstly, the free swinging of the entire club is considered to be an essential part of the game.
Secondly, our judgment, based on tradition, observation and experience, is that anchoring creates an unacceptable risk of changing and reducing the challenge of making a stroke. And thirdly, the new rule is not about scientific or statistical data; but it is about whether anchoring might give a player a potential advantage or alter the fundamental challenge of freely swinging the club. Section three considers the second major concern, whether it is too late to change this rule. I would highlight five points here.
Firstly, the Rules of Golf are under continuous review and revised every four years. Secondly, changes to the Rules of Golf are often made long after a controversy arises and players have always adapted as necessary. Examples include the introduction of the 14 club limit, the elimination of the stymie in match play and the prohibition of croquet style putting. More recently discussion has been ongoing for years about slow play, the use of TV and video evidence, scorecard penalties and other such rules issues. Therefore, the passage of time cannot bar us from addressing such issues. For it often takes time to study them, assess potential solutions and build the consensus needed for change.
Thirdly, when considering a new rule on anchoring in the context in sport in general, we have concluded it is neither unfair nor unusual. Countless rule changes in other sports including cricket, rugby union and swimming have required participants to abandon or modify techniques that they have developed, practiced or used to their perceived advantage. Fourthly, in terms of keeping this rule change in perspective, players may continue to use belly length and long putters, provided they do so without anchoring the club. A wide variety of gripping styles, putter types and swing methods remain permissible.
And finally, this is a rule for the future and it has no bearing on prior play or success with anchoring. Everyone who has used anchored strokes in the past or who does so between now and the 1st of January 2016 will have played entirely in accordance with the Rules of Golf, and their achievements will in no way be diminished. Section four addresses the third major concern; that the introduction of this new rule may harm participation. Four points to highlight in this section. Firstly, there is no meaningful data to support the notion that anchoring plays any material role in driving participation rates.
Secondly, challenges such as the expense of the game and the length of time it takes to play are the main factors that affect participation, rather than whether or not golfers can anchor their putters. We have concluded that bifurcation of the rules, or the introduction of an anchoring condition of competition, would be counterproductive and harmful to the game. And fourthly, an integral part of the game's appeal is that golfers of all levels can play the same course with the same equipment under the same rules. So in conclusion, as Peter has already mentioned, we know that not everyone will agree with the new rule prohibiting anchoring, and we understand the concerns expressed by those who feel disadvantaged by this decision.
We hope that this extensive report demonstrates the thoroughness of this review and hope this explains our reasons for taking this decision. We believe that this decision is in the best long term interests of the game as a whole, and hope that it will bring to a close the long standing controversial debate about anchored putting and its place in the game. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay, we'll hand over to the floor for any questions, please.
Q. In your view, is this going to end up in some kind of messy legal dispute or will that be avoided?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I very much hope not. Whatever people's views about anchored putting, they are made passionately with those individuals' best interests of the game at heart. And it's certainly true, isn't it, that the best interests of the game would be served by this not being divisive, by people getting behind the decision that the governing bodies have made, and helping each other get to 2016 where those who have had to make an adjustment to their game having made that adjustment successfully. I have a great deal of faith in the essential goodwill of golfers everywhere, and their willingness to get behind what the governing bodies have decided. So I'm very hopeful that it won't come to anything like that.
Q. Are both tours, in particular, the PGA Tour, fully on board with it?
PETER DAWSON: Well, the PGA Tour have made public their views about it, as have other tours around the world and there has been a division of opinion there. The tours will now have to take what the governing bodies have decided and take a view on what's been said. Of course, I think it's good rule making when governing bodies can listen to what everyone has said, come out with a decision and that decision is then accepted as the way forward and I'm very hopeful that will be the case.
Q. The PGA Tour have mentioned in the past about the possibility of a local rule, and you will also be dead against that seeing that's counterproductive to this new rule?
PETER DAWSON: Well, it wouldn't be a Rule of Golf, because the governing bodies have decided what's going to happen with the rules of the game and we think that's what's going to stick.
Q. Are you worried at all about the apparently large number of club pros who are teaching youngsters to putt with either the belly putter or anchored, underneath the chin? Seems to be progressively more and more of them doing it; is that a worry for you?
PETER DAWSON: Well, reports of that practice were one of the reasons why we felt that anchored putting must have the potential to provide an advantage if teachers of the game and teachers of youngsters were backing it. And I think it was an integral part of the reason that we have come to this decision now where the upsurge of usage both on the tours and at early stages of playing the game was becoming apparent. So, yes, it was a concern to us, but this new rule has dealt with it.
Q. What would you expect the PGA Tour's reaction to be to this today? Could you give us an idea of what you think their thinking is at?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I don't actually know the answer to that. It's a matter I think you'll have to take up with the PGA Tour to see what's said. As I say, I'm very hopeful that they will be able to find a way of getting behind the governing bodies decision.
Q. You have no indication which way they are thinking.
PETER DAWSON: No, I have not. I know they have a process to go through, and I've no doubt they will go through it.
Q. Do you know when that process takes place?
PETER DAWSON: No, I'm sorry, I don't.
Q. You said that bifurcation would be counterproductive and harmful to the game and you don't want that; is there not a fear that by making this ruling that could actually take place if organizations go against you?
PETER DAWSON: Well, that's exactly why I think it's bad for rule making that possibilities like that exist. I think the proper way to do these things is for the governing bodies to take account of all the views expressed, and in the end, make the decision that they as independent bodies think is best for the game, and that's exactly what we've done.
Q. Can I ask you how surprised you were when a golfing ambassador of the R&A recently decided to use the belly putter, and had he spoken to you about it before he made the decision?
PETER DAWSON: No, Pádraig is not in the habit of consulting me about very much to be honest, and I guess I was bemused by it (smiling). Let's see if it improves his game. Pádraig perhaps thinks there is a potential advantage to be in this which perhaps adds weight to the decision we've taken.
Q. He actually did come out and say he believes it should be banned anyway. It doesn't affect your relationship in any way, I would imagine?
PETER DAWSON: Not in the slightest. Pádraig is a good friend, thank you.
Q. How practical is it going to be to actually police this new rule, because I think Adam Scott has gone on record as saying he would move the putter an inch from his chest and still use the same stroke, and you could have guys that could have it close to the belly and not actually in the belly. How practical would it be to administer the rule?
DAVID RICKMAN: We believe the enforcement of this rule will be relatively straightforward. It will certainly not be the only rule in which we rely to a large extent on a player's own honesty and integrity. Players themselves will know whether they are anchoring the club or whether they are not; and therefore, this rule like many others, will rely to a large extents on that. We don't have any particular concerns in that regard.
Q. Can you define anchoring?
DAVID RICKMAN: Well, the rule deals with both direct and indirect anchoring. So in simple terms, direct anchoring is where the club or the gripping hand is held indirectly against the body. And the indirect anchoring which gets a little bit more complicated, that's where the forearm is intentionally held against the body but is done so in such a way as to create that same sort of indirect anchoring. So by looking at the rule but most importantly at the two notes, we believe that the rule is relatively clear.
Q. You don't think this will lead to an awful lot of petty squabbles of people saying in simple terms: I'm not anchoring, and other people saying, well, you bloody well look as though you are to us.
DAVID RICKMAN: I don't believe so I think that golfers have a very good track record of understanding the rules and then looking to play by those rules. We don't see that there should be any particular reason that this will be any different; perhaps another good part of this is the 2 1/2 year lead in period where there will be plenty of opportunity for people to iron out any of those issues before it becomes a matter of there being a penalty or not.
Q. And Peter, are you concerned that this might cause some people to leave the game?
PETER DAWSON: No. There is absolutely no evidence, I would suggest, that people are staying in the game because they are anchor putters or play with an anchored stroke. They may not be able to putt as well by going back to the conventional way of doing it, but I don't think that's going to cause golfers who enjoy this wonderful game to leave in big numbers. There's certainly no evidence to that effect and our discussions and the input we have had would lead us to that view.
Q. You mentioned at the start of the comment period, you didn't expect anything to crop up that you had not considered; among the 450 comments, was there anything?
PETER DAWSON: I think the only thing that cropped up that perhaps we hadn't thought about was the suggestion of grandfathering individuals, as opposed to the method; why don't we draw a line and anyone who has anchored for the last 20 years and can prove it can carry on till death, but no one else can start, and that was perhaps a new one. But I think we soon talked ourselves out of thinking that was a good idea. But by and large, the input was very much along the lines of all the issues that we had previously considered, which is what the main reason, I suppose, why we have gone forward with the original proposal.
Q. Why has it taken so long to get to this conclusion about the free swinging club and its important to traditions of the game? We have a free swinging club, and people have been playing with this technique for the last 35 years; it's a free swinging club whether it's 35 years ago or whether it's today.
PETER DAWSON: I take your point. It's certainly true that in the past, discussions about amongst the governing bodies on this subject have zoned in on putter length, as opposed to method of stroke.
The increase in usage on Tour and reports of youngsters coming into the game and starting out with the anchored stroke caused the subject to come back into focus. I think what David said is absolutely right in the 600 year or so history of the game, it has quite often or on a number of occasions taken quite some time for rules to be changed and certain practices to be examined and opinions formed. I think that's been the case this time, but it certainly was accelerated by the spiking on Tour. We saw some Tour events where 26 per cent of players were actually anchoring, and the reports of college coaches and coaches of golf children coming into the game were proposing this method; all of that in combination brought it back into focus.
Q. When Tiger Woods spoke yesterday and welcomed this forthcoming ban, he urged the PGA Tour to employ it as soon as possible. What would be as soon as possible? Would they be able to do it before 2016? Would they be breaking the rule then?
PETER DAWSON: Well, the announcement we have made today does not allow for such a ban or such a prohibition to be introduced before January 2016. And during the comment period, despite the fact there had been some conversation about it before, during the comment period, we did not receive from the tours that proposal. Now, if the tours came back between now and January 2016 saying they really want to do this, we would consider it, but we do think that it's a strength of the proposal that players are given 2 1/2 years to adjust.
Q. Just to clarify the Matt Kuchar stroke, if you like, with the putter pressed against the forearm, that will still be within the rule?
DAVID RICKMAN: Yes, it will. That style of stroke is considered a variation on the gripping style. The entire club is still moving; so that method of putting is considered conforming now and conforming post 2016.
Q. Are you worried that that muddies the waters slightly?
DAVID RICKMAN: I think so. We were deliberate in focusing on the aspects of the anchored stroke we felt held particular potential advantage that were particularly concerning to us, and there are a number of variations on that type of stroke. As soon as anybody goes, for a right handed player, left hand low, the top hand gets very close to the wrist, very close to the forearm. So we were not concerned about those strokes, and we also need to have a way to try to reasonably, clearly, say what is allowed and what is not so that the Kuchar method of stroke is going to be continued to be allowed.
Q. What have been the comments from equipment manufacturers to the proposal? Have you had any opposition from them?
PETER DAWSON: Well, yes, we have had some and we have had some support from them, too. It's actually been a mixture.
Q. Has there been a consensus of opinion amongst them, mainly for or mainly against them?
PETER DAWSON: I would actually say not. Would you, David? It's been quite mixed.
Q. Can you remember at what point in previous discussions with the USGA that you realized that you might arrive at this date today, was it before Keegan Bradley or was it after Keegan Bradley became a Major winner with that belly putter?
PETER DAWSON: I can honestly say, I know this has been reported a number of times; that the major winners have not really played a part in this debate. It's been numbers of players anchoring and youngsters starting out, far more than the actual results of individual players. I can honestly say that that hasn't - and the fact I can't even answer your question as to timing, I think proves the point. It has not been a factor.
Q. Further to the golf club manufacturers' comments, well, we have one here, courtesy of Twitter of course and this is from Cobra/Puma and the quote is: 'Golf lost today, this is not the direction we should be going.' What's your response to that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we've had a number of comments like that, and clearly we simply don't agree with that. I think what we are trying to do here is define what a golf stroke is in a more detailed way than it's been defined in the past, and we are doing it because we think it is the right thing for the game going forward and in the long term. So we don't agree with that comment.
Q. What will be the penalty if anyone dares to accidentally use the anchored stroke after January 2016?
DAVID RICKMAN: Well, the stroke counts, and then it's a two stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
PETER DAWSON: For each occurrence.
DAVID RICKMAN: Correct.
Q. Did you consider temporary bifurcation? I think we still have that with grooves. You could have had a situation where you could have let amateurs use it until 2020 and let pros start in 2016. Was that ever considered?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, it was, and we decided two things. One, it's not entirely akin to the groove situation, because one of the driving factors of that was that we didn't want to force millions of amateur golfers to have to buy new golf clubs. We felt that going out to 2024 or thereabouts would allow that to cycle through normally and I think most people who have long and belly putters also have short ones, so there isn't an economics issue there. So we thought that 2 1/2 years was an adequate time to make an adjustment, and it was a temporary - it would have been a temporary bifurcation that was not necessary in this case. We think a stroke, a method of stroke, is so fundamental to the game that it's not something you would ever want to split the rules about, if indeed you want to do it about anything.
Q. Have you ever used one, Peter?
PETER DAWSON: For about five minutes. Complete failure. My belly putter wasn't short enough (laughter).
Q. Curious what kind of communication or what you had to field at the R&A headquarters, club golfers who are the majority, with regard to how they felt, pro or anti the stance that you're taking.
PETER DAWSON: Well, as you would expect, we had a number of comments from golfers about their own game, their own individual inability to putt with a shorter putter. Some were mistakenly thought that the long and belly putter were actually going to be banned as clubs and that their medical condition with their backs would be a problem, but we were able to allay those fears. But we also had a strong number of people writing in and saying as individuals, not as organizations, that this was the right thing for the game to do. And they would tend to take the broader view; whereas the people writing in tended to be writing in for themselves.
Q. Following on with regard to a comparison with your U.S. counterparts, were they receiving much more mail than you guys?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, they received about two and a half thousand comments, I think it was - 2,200 comments, rather. So yes, they had four or five times as many comments as we had.
Q. A few players have said that they think the key thing here should be that the putter is the shortest club in the bag. Has that ever been considered at committee level, and what would be the practical objections to that?
DAVID RICKMAN: Yes, thank you. It was considered previously and it was debated again during the early stages of this particular review. I think as Peter has alluded to already, immediate concerns are that it discriminates potentially on height. It also would render some clubs non conforming. It also, to some extent, misses the point, too. In other words, what we are really concerned about here is the anchoring of the club, and you can, although it's more difficult, you can still achieve an anchored stroke with a short putter. So all in all, on both sides of the equation, we concluded that that was not the right way forward here.
Q. Do you have a lot of letters from people with the yips, and were you moved by them?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, we did have some. I don't know what "a lot" means. I'm always sympathetic to people with the yips, seeing it's something that's affected me more than once; and when you've had them, you've got them, as they say. And yeah, there is no doubt that people have found a way of avoiding the yips with an anchored stroke are going to have to find another way of avoiding the yips, I'm afraid.
Q. Did you find it?
PETER DAWSON: No, not that I know of. Just persevered, and it's getting better, but I think that might be temporary. (Smiling).
Q. Golf already has one lawsuit pending on another matter; do you fear that someone might test the water on this one, as well?
PETER DAWSON: Well, they might. I very much hope not, as I've said before, because I think it's best for the game now that we put this behind us and all get around the rule and move forward. I think the governing bodies have always had the right, if you like, the right by consent more than anything else, to make rule changes down the years, and I think people coming into the game know that that's a possibility. And so personally, I don't think lawsuits will be on particularly strong ground, but I certainly hope we don't have any.
Q. Do you have any sense of nervousness of what the reaction might be?
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, I think always we are not so sure of ourselves that you can always be sure you're going to be right. And a bit of humility is no bad thing, but we have certainly done our homework on this one, far more than anything else I can think of actually, in my time at the R&A. Wherever I go, in our rules jurisdiction - we had our international golf conference which we hold every four years at the R&A in St. Andrews two or three weeks ago; 200 delegates from 70 countries. And the support of the R&A as the governing body, making decisions about the rules - we took a vote on it, it was 96 percent - still seeking the four. And same for a single set of rules, and so it was very gratifying. I think there's huge support out there, and every indicator that we have had is that there is enormous support for this. So that's helped us to make the decision.
Q. Would you say this is one of most difficult rule changes you've had to make in recent times; judging by the size of the document?
PETER DAWSON: Yeah, it's been certainly the most controversial for a long time. I don't know how controversial the stymie was or the 14 club rule and so on. But it's certainly been the most controversial, because, of course, a number of high profile players are using the method. And so therefore, it's been on television a lot, and there's been a lot of debate in social media and so on, which seems to be going onto my left at strength (laughter).
Q. I'll keep you posted, Peter.
PETER DAWSON: (Laughing).
Q. Is there any sense with the R&A that this is slightly less problematic for you than the USGA in that two of the leading bodies who have spoken out against this are based in America?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think it's important to know that this is a joint position that the R&A and USGA are taking. We are standing shoulder to shoulder on it. And it's also undeniably true that most of the adverse comment that there has been, and certainly the high profile adverse comment has come from the United States. The USGA will be I guess doing its best to deal with that. We have been very heartened by the support that we have received and we thank all of the organizations in our jurisdiction who have been behind us. It's been most gratifying.
Q. I hope this doesn't sound frivolous. Is the elbow part of the forearm?
DAVID RICKMAN: No. Forearm is below the elbow; correct.
Q. Peter, again, through social media, we now discover the PGA Tour have put out a statement that they will begin the process to see which elements of this rule will be accepted or otherwise. So it's not unconditional on their part, is it. So it's going to get bumpy down the road; what's your response to that?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I can barely respond to it. We'll have to wait and see what they say.
Q. Are you surprised that they have not adopted this?
PETER DAWSON: I think the PGA Tour have a process to follow and we'll just have to let them follow it. They couldn't perhaps start their process until we made our announcement.
MODERATOR: Any further questions? Okay, we'll leave it there, thanks, everyone.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.